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"I spit out the tobacco and I take a towel and wipe my teeth off. Sometimes once, sometimes twice. It's important to get the inside of my teeth completely clean, too.
"Then I go right to the gum. I take the wrapper off the gum and I save the piece of tinfoil. I wrap the tinfoil carefully into a ball so that the shiny part is on the inside and the glazed part on the outside. I take my time so this will use up about an inning. It keeps my mind off the bullpen.
"I flip the foil away with my thumb once I've got it rolled the way I want it. I use that green stick gum because I like the foil. Sometimes I go to the bubble gum if nothing else is available. But the bubble gum doesn't have any tinfoil—and that's when I have my bad days on the mound. I chew the gum on the mound. But when I'm in a jam I walk toward second base and spit it out—that gives me the sudden burst of energy I need."
"When I can't yell at the umpire and can't answer back at the fans," says Bench, "I just spit."
Pitching Coach Johnny Sain also speaks of tobacco in terms of speech: "I chew because it keeps me from talking, and I can tend to business." When Sain was pitching for the old Boston Braves he was said to have replied to writers' questions in a language of squirts. Straight down meant "Yes." Spits traveling outward meant "No." In conversations demanding a more refined control of the medium, Sain might be misunderstood. He receives considerable support as the game's sloppiest chewer. "The thing about Sain," says Ed Herrmann, "is that the juice runs down both sides of his mouth. He gets it all over his uniform."
That puts Sain up among the most distinguished chewers, of course. (The neatest chewers, says Herrmann, are "all beginners.") But who is the greatest of all? This is not an easy question to answer. Criteria vary. Sparky Lyle may be the biggest chewer ever, having been known to expand his cheek with a full pack, so that on the left side he looks like Dizzy Gillespie hitting a high note. Steve Renko says the biggest chewer he ever saw was little-known Bobby Hendley, a teammate of his in the minors. "He could fill up an entire trash can with spit. It was amazing."
There are standards of offensiveness, an important consideration, because one of chewing's charms, to the chewer, is taking casual pleasure in something that causes other people, even from a distance, to blanch and grow dizzy. "You might say the alltime tobacco chewer, a guy who had some tricks that will go down in history, was John Boozer of the Phillies," says Dick Hall. "He had a number of little things he did, like eating moths, which he taught me. It's very simple. It really impresses people. He would bite grasshoppers in half. The back half would hop out by itself. Boozer also had a couple of neat tricks with tobacco. He'd spit the tobacco straight up in the air and catch it in his mouth. And miss most of it, of course."
Clay Dalrymple remembers Boozer. "You have to have a strong stomach for this story," he says. "Boozer used to go into the clubhouse and spit on the ceiling. When it dropped back down he would catch it in his mouth. He was a breed all of his own. He would try to turn guys' stomachs. He had no scruples. He was a beaut, and a real nice guy."
Names that keep cropping up in any discussion of great chewers are Rocky Bridges and Nellie Fox. The most colorful stories are by or about Bridges, but Fox, who died in 1975, is generally acknowledged as the king. He was a classic tobacco chewer, carrying in his cheek a chaw half as big as his hat. "All class," says former Yankee Pitcher Steve Hamilton, himself a towering figure in chewing. "Great staying power. Could chew all day. Tremendous accuracy and finesse in his spitting."
Tobacco chewing has considerable symbolic value. During his first spring training last year, Mark Fidrych spit tobacco juice all over the front of his uniform on purpose and explained, "I want the guys to know I chew." Joe Nuxhall, the old Cincinnati pitcher, says, "In my day, and I'm talking about 1952 to 1960, to be a big-leaguer you had to chew."